Saturday, May 15, 2021

Mogwe death evokes scribe’s memories of a tyrant headmaster

It cannot be right to celebrate the demise of others with a pun.I received the news of Archibald Mogwe’s death with both nostalgia and sympathy. May his soul rest in eternal peace.When I heard that this political dinosaur had passed away at the age of 99 – almost double my age, I asked this newspaper’s editor if he was running a story on him – an obituary that is. On a tight deadline, Outsa Mokone probably thought I had gone bonkers. He did not give me a certain answer as he sifted through copy to select what goes and doesn’t go into the lean paper of that week.

News of Mogwe’s death, I assume, must have been received with mixed reactions by loving and equally hate-driven Batswana (Oh yes there are many of the latter amongst us these days) depending on who you are.To be honest, this article isn’t about Mogwe save maybe for a paragraph or two.His passing has popped up the anger I have bottled for three decades since I left Kagiso Senior Secondary School in 1990.I was an inert member of the school press club whose president, I think, was lawyer Oteng Motlhale. I can’t recall exactly what role The Midweek Sun Editor Joe Brown played.Mogwe visited our school as a distinguished guest at the invitation of headmaster Peter Appiah to address students at Kagiso Senior Secondary School during a press day commemoration.

I never thought I’d live to see the day when I would be typing this article from the offices of Sunday Standard to share a verbal altercation between a teacher and minister and at the same time empty my spleen on a departed headmaster.So then, during that day of the press freedom celebration, out of the blues, a sports master teacher and qualified journalist – straight from his sojourn in Taiwan – Reuben Rathedi ruffled Minister Archibald Mogwe’s feathers or shall we say his chequered jacket. Rathedi asked Mogwe a taboo question – blasphemous even – on account of the political culture of the time.

For those who don’t know Rathedi, he is a sports master at the University of Botswana. Mogwe served as Minister and was Specially Elected Member of Parliament after losing elections to the opposition Botswana National Front (BNF). He also served as Botswana’s ambassador to the United States under Botswana’s second president, Sir Ketumile Masire’s rule.A marathon runner, Rathedi kept an afro. He stirred what students most probably considered a storm in a tea cup when he caught the minister off-guard. He challenged Mogwe to a political debate which was neither on the agenda nor sanctioned by the school head.“What does participatory democracy mean to you Mr. Mogwe when you have twice been rejected by the people of Kanye at the polls yet you have been returned to parliament through unorthodox means,” Rathedi asked Mogwe in this not-so-verbatim quote.

Rathedi was questioning the democratic credentials of the ruling party by way of rewarding election losers through a system of Specially Elected Member at times having lost to opponents. Like a wounded buffalo in a village which venerates the same animal as its totem, Mogwe grabbed the microphone from the adjudicator with fiery written all over his face. “I can see that this meeting is rough. Now I guess I also have to be rough,” he bellowed through his husky voice with a tinge of blood-red eyes firing a salvo at Rathedi. The rebuke carried a message that teachers shouldn’t meddle in politics. He warned Rathedi to refrain from entering unchartered waters with a leave-politics-to-politicians kicker.

What followed was seismic. Rathedi was frog-matched in full view of students escorted from the dining hall to the staff room a few yards away by the school head getting severely scolded along the way.Rathedi’s crime, grave even, was that he picked a micro-phone before learners during question time after Mogwe had addressed students. He dismissed the then minister’s standing as a leader of society whom students could derive inspiration from.

Mogwe had regaled students with stories of how his government supported civil liberties. He had sought to portray the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP)’s rule as just. Many would have argued then, including a writer who recently wrote a sting in the tail opinion that faulted Duma Boko’s faltering leadership of the BNF in these pages that Mogwe was guilty as charged for turning school grounds into a freedom square.

I guess the anonymous writer who yearned those BNF political education days would have penned an article that insinuated that Mogwe came to Kagiso Senior to brain wash innocent minds into believing the BDP government rule was flawless.Appiah was the school headmaster incarnation of Idi Amini. He rode roughshod over everyone at Kagiso Senior Secondary School community – teachers, a boarding master, students, groundsmen, cooks, a messenger and a bursar.

He was a headmaster full of exuberance. Nevertheless, he discharged his duties with the utmost rough-shod modicum which can only match that of known dictators. For someone who was heading a school attended mostly by children fed on lemons yet blessed with a diversity of teachers from almost all corners of the globe, Appiah knew how to spoil things.He was feared and loathed by all. Appiah’s outward looking was deceiving. He probably didn’t know that some students had beef with his artificial grins he so often displayed after mass at the consecrated St. Conrad’s Catholic Church grounds only to unleash terror on students the same week.

Appiah once shocked everyone in the Kagiso community when his hard and fast rules undermined infant democracy at school when students were asked to elect a school head boy and head girl. The headmaster interfered with the popular vote outcome and hand-picked a deputy head boy over a second runner-up only to designate the winner to the position of entertainment prefect.

Woodwork teacher Peter Lloyd, the long-nosed lanky British national suffered humiliation in front of students during class wearing an apron with chisel in hand at the hands of Appiah. The Kagiso “burgomaster” derived joy from looking important in the eyes of political masters. Those who knew him from Madiba Senior Secondary School and Lobatse Senior Secondary School can attest to the fact that when it came to school facelift Appiah was a breed apart but was creepy on human interaction.

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